Ecclestone: It would be nice if Raikkonen returned to F1

Bernie Ecclestone has revealed he would welcome Kimi Raikkonen back to Formula One. The 2007 world champion, having driven mainly in world rally but also Nascar-style racing since leaving Ferrari two years ago, is being strongly linked with a comeback with the Williams F1 team.

New reports, including in the major Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, claim the 32-year-old has been training hard for the past four months to get back into shape for F1.

“It would be nice to see him do it,” F1 chief executive Ecclestone told Finnish broadcaster MTV3. “I am not sure if he is serious about it.”

Throughout the Indian Grand Prix weekend, Williams chairman Adam Parr batted away the Raikkonen speculation. But he finally relented on Sunday in a television interview with the BBC.

“From what we can all see, he (Raikkonen) is very hungry to come back,” said Parr, as Williams reportedly contemplates pairing Raikkonen with Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado.

“And I think having a world champion in your midst of course energises people.”

Contrary to recent speculation, Helsingin Sanomat said Williams does not need to secure new sponsors to sign Raikkonen.

“We need to get the best driver lineup for next year,” said Parr.


Rosberg hoping for Ferrari drive?

Nico Rosberg could be eyeing a switch from Mercedes to Ferrari, a “source” has told a German tabloid newspaper.

Mercedes chiefs Ross Brawn and Norbert Haug in India indicated they want to keep the 26-year-old beyond his contract, which according to reports is set to run until the end of next season. But they also acknowledged that the “market is open”.

“In general you can go to the wrong team at the wrong team, which is a mistake every driver should try to avoid,” said motor sport director Haug.

Interestingly, Rosberg’s link to Ferrari follows the latest controversy involving Felipe Massa, after which the Brazilian continued to angrily slam his nemesis Lewis Hamilton.

Ferrari has said it will honour Massa’s 2012 contract but may look to replace him beyond then.

Explaining Massa’s anger after his collision and penalty, Hamilton’s boss Martin Whitmarsh noted that the 30-year-old is “under enormous pressure within that team”.

The Cologne tabloid Express, meanwhile, noted that Mercedes is actually yet to confirm Rosberg, even for next year. And the newspaper quoted a source as saying: “Nico is thinking about Ferrari.”


Pic also in talks with Williams for 2012

French hopeful Charles Pic has entered the race to replace Rubens Barrichello at Williams next year. The 21-year-old GP2 driver’s mentor Olivier Panis, working with the Lagardere group, admitted recently he is in talks with Team Lotus and Virgin about 2012.

French broadcaster TF1 announced on Sunday morning from India that Pic, who is understood to carry some millions in potential backing for an F1 employer, has now signed with Virgin for 2012.

His press officer denied the news, telling Provence: “At this point, no agreement has been formalised.

“Charles is still in contact with three teams — Lotus, Virgin and Williams,” spokeswoman Muriel Belgy told the regional daily.


Buemi close to tears as 2012 decision nears

Sebastien Buemi was close to tears after exiting Sunday’s Indian Grand Prix in a cloud of smoke. The Swiss is under immense pressure to prove to Toro Rosso that he should be retained for 2012, as team owner Red Bull looks to place young hopefuls Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.

Jaime Alguersuari on the other hand appears increasingly established at the Faenza based team and in India pulled out his gap to Buemi to 11 points. Buemi however was running eighth when his Ferrari engine failed.

He solemnly admitted to Blick newspaper that, given the driver situation for 2012, his current form is worrying.

“Sure. For 2012 only the results matter,” said the Swiss on the eve of his 23rd birthday.

“I hope the bosses will see that out of us (Buemi and Alguersuari) I’m the fastest driver on the track.

“Without luck, what can I do? I give everything but you’re helpless against fate. I will continue to push even though I’ve never seen so much Scheisse (sh*t).”

There are just two races left in 2011 for Buemi to show Red Bull that he should continue to be backed.

“In Abu Dhabi and Brazil you will again see a strong fight from me, even though I have much to lose in the battle. But I never give up,” he said.

As for whether he sees himself at Toro Rosso for a fourth consecutive season in 2012, he answered: “I can only hope.”


Ferrari to analyse front wing fluttering

A point of interest throughout the Indian Grand Prix weekend was Ferrari’s “fluttering” front wing.

It is believed the Italian team, with a firm eye on 2012, is publicly experimenting with the sort of legal wing flexibility that is being mysteriously achieved by Red Bull. At high speed at the Buddh circuit, a prototype version on Felipe Massa’s car was often seen wildly oscillating; a phenomenon referred to in the aviation industry as “flutter”.

“It does seem a bit exciting,” chuckled Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn after seeing the television images.

Given Ferrari’s good pace in India, some observers wondered if the wing movement might even be intentional.

Ferrari chief Stefano Domenicali played down that possibility.

“We will analyse the data now to see what causes this fluttering,” he is quoted by Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.

An amused onlooker this weekend was Adrian Newey, Red Bull’s revered designer.

“I don’t think Ferrari had this effect in mind,” he said. “Somehow it doesn’t look quite right. But if we are being used as a model, we take it as a compliment.”


Whitmarsh denies McLaren breaching constructor definition

Martin Whitmarsh has fended off claims teams like McLaren are already breaching the current definition of a F1 ‘constructor’. The issue is on the agenda for this week’s F1 Commission meeting in Geneva, with the possible outcome to be the legalisation of the sale of entire ‘customer cars’ to small teams.

Whitmarsh, the McLaren and FOTA chief, is opposed.

But the proponents, understood to be powered by Ferrari, will reportedly argue on Thursday that McLaren for example already shares its intellectual property with customer teams including Force India and Virgin. Whitmarsh rejects the link.

“Our agreement with Force India has been approved by the FIA and FOM,” he said, referring to the technology deal in place with Vijay Mallya’s team.

“It is a collaboration in some areas in which third-party services are allowed,” insisted Whitmarsh, referring to transmission and hydraulics.

As for the deal with Virgin, this covers mainly the renting of infrastructure.

“For us this is a business model that is within the rules,” he is quoted by Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.


Indian GP 2011: full race report

Vettel unrelenting as he takes inaugural Indian GP win

Button only credible resistance to the German, taking second

Alonso third; team mate Massa in yet more contact with Lewis Hamilton

Sebastian Vettel won the first Indian GP today in the style for which he is becoming renowned – relentless. The German did not appear to realise that he was the world champion already, and looked intent adding to his margin of dominance, on crushing the opposition in the final tally as he sped off into the distance at the Buddh International Circuit.

Jenson Button was in many respects the only man in India today who could hold a candle to Vettel. Button drove competently and speedily and in infrequent bursts, usually around the stops, looked as though he might match Vettel’s pace. Ultimately, however, he could not make inroads into the Red Bull man’s lead.

Fernando Alonso was third after a race-long battle with eventual fourth-placed man Mark Webber in the other Red Bull. Alonso yet again pulled a performance from a car that had not looked competitive in the slightest – which, in fact, was still having its front wing endplate screwed in position mere minutes from the start.

In the other main story of the race, Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa renewed their on-track acquaintance on lap 24. The clash, for which Massa was given a drive-through sanction, contributed to the Englishman’s lack of front-running dynamism and the Brazilian’s demise and retirement.

Before the off the stories were of a practical nature. Bernie had described the first India GP as “a bit chaotic”, and that was certainly the atmosphere around the Buddh International Circuit. What would the track in the environs of Greater Noida throw up? Would the off-line dust make overtaking risky? How dangerous were the high kerbs in the mid-section? And how come the Pirellis had not done their magic super-quick degradation yet in the race-sims?

Among such mundanity a minute’s silence was also held for IndyCar’s Dan Wheldon and MotoGP’s Marco Simoncelli, both tragically killed in the last two successive weekends.

The minutes ticked away to the start and very soon it was on us. Most of the drivers had opted for the soft compound Pirellis, but Paul di Resta, Vitaly Petrov and Sergio Perez were on the harder compound. On the basis of extensive and exhaustive testing since Friday, the Pirellis just were not degrading in the same way as they had been famed for doing so far this year. The plan of di Resta et al was presumably to get the slower compound out the way early, and would go particularly well in the event of a Safety Car.

They were not held long by the race director and soon were coming down to the first corner, a ninety-degree right hander. Vettel had had a perfect launch – Webber, off second, not so much. The Australian was already defending from Jenson Button on his right, which allowed Fernando Alonso into the space on his left, behind Vettel. Alonso misjudged his braking slightly and ran wide at the first turn, but not too much to his detriment. They filed through, Vettel-Webber-Button-Alonso-Massa-Hamilton.

Elsewhere everyone followed the leading pack, but then there was contact at the back. Kamui Kobayashi was involved…and it wasn’t long before there was more incident, at Turn Four. Jarno Trulli was tagged and Narain Karthikeyan, in his home event, was also caught up. Rubens Barrichello, somewhere along the line, had hit his team mate – a cardinal sin – for which he would be forced to pit for a new nose.

But meanwhile down the back straight, Button was sitting under Mark Webber’s rear wing. Before the DRS was even enabled, the McLaren man had found that his Mercedes powerplant was very juicy, and had made use of it. At the hairpin he was through into second, a place which Webber did not defend with alacrity. The other drivers must scent over-caution following the start coming off the back of that Red Bull.

By this point it was lap 3 and with a vaguely sinking heart, fans were watching Sebastian Vettel exerting a now familiar level of control over the race, by beginning that slow and deliberate extending of his lead. More was happening behind him – Webber had gleaned that he was participating in a motor race and was threatening Button for second. But the Englishman was solid and resolute in his defence and repelled him effectively, if with a complete lack of compromise. By lap 7 Webber seemed to have given up.

The order at this early stage was Vettel, Button, Webber, Alonso, Massa, Hamilton, Rosberg, Schumacher, Sutil and Senna. Both Toro Rossos were following the Renault of the Brazilian closely, Alguersuari ahead of Buemi. They would need watching, as the Scuderia’s car did not look at all shabby around this fast-flowing track. On lap 9 Alguersuari passed Senna, and Buemi followed suit a corner or two later. Senna complained that his KERS had gone, but the Catalan and his Swiss team mate were driving well. In four laps’ time they would both hunt down and pass Adrian Sutil in ninth.

On lap 12 it started to look as though Button might threaten the leader Vettel. He closed that dreadful gap to four and a half seconds on that lap and on the next by another three tenths. The same could not be said for his team mate Hamilton, who was inexplicably slower than he to the tune of four tenths a lap. Could it be strategy? Not really, no. As many a wise racing head has said, going slowly is not much of a plan.

The first big names to pit came in on lap 17. Webber, Alonso and Hamilton all opted to go in, with Alonso coming back out smack behind Michael Schumacher. This had the effect of bringing Massa right onto that battle once he pitted a tour later. Alonso got past the German once he knew he had Massa for company, but he had been held up.

Second-placed Button also paid a visit to his team on lap 19, whereas Vettel went round once more. The race had developed a strange kind of sterility by this point, as though none of the drivers were sufficiently motivated by what was on offer. But they continued, as they had to, and there would be action enough for the armchair viewer yet.

On lap 21 it was Vettel, Button, Webber, Alonso, Massa, Hamilton, Rosberg, yet-to-pit Senna, Schumacher, Kovalainen (also yet to stop but having a good afternoon nonetheless), Alguersuari, Buemi, Sutil, Perez and Petrov. Schumacher had no compunction about ruining all that effort by passing Senna.

It had been clear for some laps that Hamilton’s pace was much better on this set of tyres than he had been. Felipe Massa was in the firing line, and the Englishman closed up for some laps. Massa was under pressure and made a small mistake into Turn One, handing the initiative to the hungry, chasing McLaren. Caution has recently been absorbed into the Hamilton psyche, and he left it at least a lap, including one aborted attempt, before making a deliberate move.

It did not come at a recognised passing place, though. No, Hamilton was so much quicker through the fast back section that he drew almost level with Massa through a lightning left hander. Despite his being so very nearly parallel, there was no space, and as Massa drew left to take the racing line, there was sudden and dramatic contact. The Ferrari speared off the track, and Hamilton continued, though with a strong possibility of damage to the car.

Two laps later and after consideration, the stewards slammed Massa with a drive-through penalty. Presumably this was because replays showed him looking at the McLaren twice before turning in, but it is also very difficult to say what else Massa could have done. Yielding to Hamilton at that particular juncture would be a concretely deferential move, something to which racing drivers are not usually inclined. The upshot was that blame had been laid at Massa’s door; he may feel justifiably aggrieved.

It was a jolly good thing that this had given us all something to ponder, for there was sweet fanny adam happening elsewhere. In a disappointing turn of events, Buemi had retired on lap 26, although Alguersuari continued in eighth. Hamilton, his nose replaced after the incident, was bearing down, though, and had the Catalan on lap 31.

The other protagonist in the drama, Massa, had had an interesting time of it since. On lap 32 replays showed his front wing oscillating alarmingly down the straight, for which Ferrari were obliged to call their man in. After that, he was presumably driving with too much passion, for he clipped the high kerbs over the chicane and in a virtual mirror-image of what had happened in qualifying, he broke the suspension of his car. In lieu of all other criticism that is levelled at Massa, no one else made the same terrible mistake in both qualifying and the race.

Just outside the points-paying positions there was an earnest battle going on. It involved Sergio Perez, who was having one of his infrequent marvellous races, Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov. Kovalainen was in the process of giving us what I would call his best showing of the year, but on lap 36 he succumbed to the Russian’s pressure and surrendered 12th.

On lap 38 Button and Webber pitted for the second time for their hard tyres. They had apparently heard that Massa’s lap times had not suffered unduly while (just before his crash) he had been sporting the harder compound. Plus, Webber was being caught by the chasing Alonso. Conventional wisdom – that the harder tyres were much slower – was being gradually confounded, and this trend was proven when Webber looked quick in his new boots. Alonso dived in to copy and came out ahead of the Red Bull man on lap 40! The Australian locked up a wheel into the hairpin as his frustration visibly brimmed over.

It was now lap 44 and the order was as follows: Vettel, Button, Alonso, Webber, Rosberg, Schumacher, Hamilton, Alguersuari, Senna, Sutil, Perez, Petrov, di Resta, Kovalainen, Barrichello, Karthikeyan, d’Ambrosio, Ricciardo, Trulli. The Mexican Perez was in feisty mood and gesticulated angrily at d’Ambrosio after he felt the latter held him up. Perez had felt perhaps that he stood a chance of taking Sutil, who was looking vulnerable to quick cars behind him.

On lap 47 the final flurry of pitting began. Button was first to blink, after exciting us all briefly by destroying Vettel’s lap times up to his stop. Vettel came in the following tour, and for a tantalising time the gap had been reduced to a mere two and a half seconds. It would turn out to be smoke and mirrors, because once the German was comfortable, he reasserted his dominance. But for McLaren and Button this instance is perhaps a key to unlocking the Red Bull/Vettel fortress.

The fight continued to rage for the lower points positions. Alguersuari in eighth was being caught by Senna in ninth, although the latter would have to stop again still. Sutil was hanging on in tenth but behind him a motley crew comprising Perez and Petrov were on his case.

With ten laps to go Schumacher was racing his team mate and his team mate only for fifth. Rosberg had gone onto the hards on lap 46, which had slowed him a bit, where the elder German had stayed out on the softs. The idea was that he would pit later and jump his team mate. On lap 51 he did just that, and despite a brief period immediately after when Rosberg closed up, it was a done deal. Quite possibly Rosberg will be asking his team why this came to pass. He would be justified in indignance.

On lap 56 Senna pitted, destroying his slim chances of a points finish. He emerged in 12th, leaving Sutil-Perez-Petrov in that same order but now in ninth-tenth-eleventh. Petrov would try to nick the last point as the race entered its denouement, but ultimately without success.

Much in the same way as Button had flattered to deceive with Vettel, in the final few laps Webber briefly closed the gap to Alonso, but he could not change the order. So there it was, Vettel doing his trick of taking the win and the fastest lap on the very last tour. He broke another record today – that of the number of laps led in a season. It isn’t funny any more, Sebastian. But it is worthy of a very great deal of admiration.

Pos Driver Team Time
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h30:35.002
2. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 8.433
3. Alonso Ferrari + 24.301
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 25.529
5. Schumacher Mercedes + 1:05.421
6. Rosberg Mercedes + 1:06.851
7. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 1:24.183
8. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
9. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap
10. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap
11. Petrov Renault + 1 lap
12. Senna Renault + 1 lap
13. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap
14. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault + 2 laps
15. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 2 laps
16. D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps
17. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth + 3 laps
18. Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth + 3 laps
19. Trulli Lotus-Renault + 4 laps

Fastest lap: Vettel, 1:27.457

Not classified/retirements:

Driver Team On lap
Massa Ferrari 33
Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 25
Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 13
Glock Virgin-Cosworth 3
Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1

F1 future uncertain for Karthikeyan

Narain Karthikeyan enjoyed a positive return to the F1 grid on Sunday but he’s not sure he will be back in 2012. The Indian lost his seat to the Red Bull-backed Daniel Ricciardo earlier this season, but was back at the wheel in Delhi for a one-off return at his home race.

His teammate for the Delhi weekend was Ricciardo, and despite not driving since June Karthikeyan came within a hair’s breadth of outqualifying the Australian.

And in the race, Karthikeyan beat Ricciardo to the chequered flag.

“I am really happy that I finished the race and ahead of (my) teammate too,” he is quoted by the Press Trust of India.

“It is the best possible result we could have got. I was just half a second behind the Virigin car,” added Karthikeyan.

But the reality is that HRT only opted to put Karthikeyan back in the car this weekend due to his paying Indian sponsors, with Vitantonio Liuzzi to return in Abu Dhabi.

As for 2012, the 34-year-old admits he has no idea.

“We have not discussed that yet. We don’t talk about it. Where do we go? I don’t know,” he said.

One hope is that Sunday’s event will motivate more Indian sponsors to back him.

“I think, it should help,” said Karthikeyan.


Whitmarsh opposed to new customer car push

Martin Whitmarsh on Sunday confirmed reports McLaren is still opposed to the idea of ‘customer cars’ in Formula One.

The possible redefinition of a ‘constructor’ will be debated next week at the F1 Commission in Geneva. It is believed Bernie Ecclestone is now supportive of Ferrari’s renewed push to be allowed to sell an entire chassis to a small team. The F1 chief executive’s support could be a move to further split the unity of the teams’ association, with McLaren and Red Bull reportedly opposed to the third car idea.

McLaren’s Whitmarsh is also the head of the team alliance FOTA, whose unity is already being tested by alleged breaches of the cost-limiting resource restriction agreement.

It is alleged the proponents of customer cars will argue that big teams are already selling their intellectual property through technology deals such as McLaren’s with Virgin.

In India, however, Whitmarsh confirmed his opposition.

“We have a duty to support the sport and the teams,” he is quoted by the Press Trust of India. “It (customer cars) will probably destroy the smaller teams. Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, and maybe Mercedes can possibly do it, but if we manage the sport badly, the number of teams may drop to eight.

“There should be sustained business for all teams.”


Mercedes confirm F1 commitment for at least another three seasons

Mercedes’ works team will “definitely” be on the F1 grid in the coming three seasons, the marque’s motor sport president Norbert Haug confirmed in India. However Ross Brawn was not willing to make the same guarantee about his job as team principal.

“I want to be here for the next three years,” the Briton told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper in a joint interview with Haug. “If you don’t perform, then you’re out. I am the boss. If the project is not running right, then it will be over.”

The same might be true for Michael Schumacher, whose current contract runs out at the end of next season. By 2013, when he will be 44, will Schumacher be clearly too old to perform?

“I see no reason why,” insisted Brawn. “Everyone can see that Michael has stepped up this season and is still growing. If he can fight for podiums and wins next year, then why should he stop? At the same time if we are not successful next year, then his decision to stop will be easier.”

Brawn said the decision is ultimately Schumacher’s.

“It is very easy to talk to Michael about a new contract,” he said. “If he wants to continue, we will find a solution quickly. I don’t know what the outcome will be. And neither does he. Let’s see how good we are in 2012.”

Said Haug: “At the very least, I don’t think Michael has the intention to go to another team.”

It is arguably a more complicated situation with the other seat, as Nico Rosberg has clearly outperformed Schumacher in 2011 and 2011, attracting the attention of rival teams.

“The market is open,” admitted Haug. “And there are many drivers who are knocking on our door. But Nico wants to move forward and we want to do it with him.

“In general you can go to the wrong team at the wrong team, which is a mistake every driver should try to avoid.”

Brawn agreed: “Nico believes in the people here at Mercedes, and we believe in him. It’s just a matter of time.”

Haug said having the right driver is crucial for an F1 team, with the latest example being Red Bull.

“They have a fantastic car and a very stable team,” the German acknowledged, “but Sebastian Vettel makes the difference for them.

“Just look at the big gap between him and his teammate Webber, who I respect a lot. Sebastian is the key to their success,” added Haug.